Fifteen years ago, like many people in Oxford and indeed up and down the country, I took part in the Newbury Bypass anti-roads campaign. I was there with my bardic hat on, playing tunes and songs to inspire those with a better head for heights than me fend off the bailiffs. I tend not to dwell on those days much but it remains one of the great turning points of my life, a rite of passage that left me changed (and quite for the better). It's one of the things I've done of which I'm most proud.
The other week Jamie of Kinokast video, and the man behind the excellent short film Road to Ruin, came and interviewed me for a longer film he's making about the Newbury Bypass campaign and how it affected the people involved (incidentally, he's amassed about sixty hours of video footage, but if you have more, do get in touch with him). Inevitably it stirred up old memories and I dug up some old photos.
After three months of living in a tent I plucked up the courage to learn to climb, and this is me at the bottom of my tree.
Various people helped build me a treehouse, and this was it, a bardic home at the edge of the village. I lived there for three months.
The only way up was to prussock up a rope, the only way down was to abseil.
As far as I could tell, treehouses were held up by polyprop and charm. Somehow our rudimentary lashing held through snow and gale, long enough to last until the eviction.
When not up in the trees, there was plenty of time for music and just being in the woods.
Our camp, Skyward Camp, was evicted in March 1996 (I forget the exact date). This is what it looked like from the trees.
I chose not to resist when the bailiffs came for me but I went for a symbolic protest and played 'Amazing Grace' on my pipes until they pulled me down. It got a headline in the Guardian: 'Man plays Amazing Grace on his Spanish bagpipes as a chorus of bulldozers churn the earth around him.'
The ending was inevitable - the road got built, but we effectively put an end to the road building programme instigated by the Tories. History has proved us right too: traffic levels in Newbury are now greater than before the bypass was built and the bypass is reaching full capacity, twelve years earlier than expected.
Being a bard I felt I needed to write a song to remember the bravery of what people did at Newbury (and at the other road protests). It's named after the book by Jim Hindle, Nine Miles and it's dedicated to anyone who takes a stand for what they believe to be right. Yip yip!
Nine Miles by andyletcher